10 company name types on TechCrunch: Pros and cons
Every once in a while The Name Inspector likes to step back and look at the big picture. This post illustrates ten name categories that account for all the names in the TechCrunch company/product index. Well, almost all of them. The name 1 800 Free 411 would have required its own category, and that would have made eleven categories instead of the magic ten. So let’s just ignore that name for now.
Though most of the TechCrunch names are “Web 2.0″ names, there’s nothing particularly Web 2.0 about the categories. They all represent linguistic naming strategies that can be used for companies or products of any kind.
Of course, there are different ways to categorize names. You can use phonetic properties like sonority or number of syllables. You can use semantic criteria, such as whether they are metaphorical, metonymic, or literally descriptive. The categories below are based on the morphological structure of names: what kinds of meaningful pieces they have and how the pieces fit together. They’re listed in descending order of frequency. The number of names in each category is in parentheses.
1. Real Words (34)
Names that are simply repurposed words. Such names can’t be generically descriptive, because then they wouldn’t be protectible trademarks, so they usually work through metaphor or metonymy (indirect association).
Pros: These names are short and come ready-made with rich, often multiple associations.
Cons: Expect to pay money–possibly a lot–to secure the URL. Trademarking can be tricky too.
These are simply words that have been misspelled to make them more distinctive. This addresses the URL/trademark issue. (Update 9/23/2011: See Fritinancy’s great cautionary post about how misspelling does not help to defend a trademark.)
Goowy (gooey or GUI)
Snocap (snow cap)
Renkoo (Japanese renku, a type of poetry)
Rojo (Spanish ‘red’)
Vox (Latin ‘voice’)
2. Compounds (31)
Each of these names consists of two words put together, with the first word receiving the main emphasis in pronunciation. (It doesn’t matter if there’s a space between words). In most cases both words are nouns. Names with verbs in the second position are Bubbleshare, Google Talk, and possibly Tailrank (share, talk, and rank can all be nouns, but they’re verbs under the most natural interpretation). Names with non-nouns in the first position are BlueDot,SocialText, JotSpot, Measure Map, and possibly Jumpcut, Rapleaf, andSearchFox. Again, the first words here can all be nouns, but they’re more naturally treated as two adjectives (blue and social) and a bunch of verbs.
Compounds are a simple way to create new words and are very common in English (and other Germanic languages), so it’s not surprising to find them high on the list.
Pros: The practically limitless number of possible combinations makes it easy to create a unique name. Interesting meanings can be created through the combination of words.
Cons: There are no huge drawbacks, which is one reason that compounds are popular, but they are longer than many other kinds of name.
3. Phrases (25)
These are names that follow normal rules for putting words together to make phrases (other than compounds).
Pros: They sound linguistically natural and have clear meanings because they follow regular rules.
Cons: Phrase names can be long, and they can also sound awkward when used as nouns if they are not already noun phrases (e.g. Have you tried iLike?)
Amie Street (could be a compound, but __ Street is such a common pattern)
Planet Web 2.0
TheVeniceProject (could be a compound, but the the makes it phrase-like).
Included in this category are names that consist of a company name or prominent brand name followed by a generic noun. In these names, the first word functions as a kind of modifier of the second.
Notice the Google Talk is not here–it’s on the compound list. That’s becauseGoogle Talk is pronounced with the emphasis on Google, which means that the whole thing is treated as one word. As far as The Name Inspector knows, all the names immediately above are pronounced with some emphasis on each word, and the main emphasis on the second. Does anyone disagree?
4. Blends (12)
Each of these names has two parts, at least one of which is a recognizable portion of a word rather than a whole word.
Pros: When they work, blends can be short and elegant and have all the advantages of compounds.
Cons: When they don’t work, blends can be awkward and/or have obscure meanings.
Maxthon (max + marathon)
Microsoft (microcomputer + software)
Netscape (net + landscape)
Newroo (new + kangaroo)
PubSub (publish + subscribe)
Rebtel (rebel + telephone)
Rollyo (roll + your own, or roll + your own)
Sharpcast (sharp + broadcast)
Skype (sky + peer-to-peer)
Technorati (technology + literati)
Wikipedia (wiki + encyclopedia)
Zillow (zillions + pillow, with overlap of -ill-)
5. Tweaked words (11)
Some names are just words that have been slightly changed in pronunciation and spelling–usually with a letter replaced or added.
Pros: As long as people recognize the word, you get all its rich meaning while still having a distinctive name.
Cons: People might not recognize the word, and some of these names can be a little cheesy and gimmicky.
CNet (might stand for computer network, but who thinks of it that way?)
6. Affixed words (10)
These are all novel forms consisting of a real word and a real prefix or suffix. Notice how common the -ster suffix is.
Pros: These names can be distinctive and meaningful while remaining relatively short.
Cons: Sometimes these names sound contrived. The meanings added by affixes are limited in variety and usually abstract (which means not very vivid).
Performancing (performance isn’t a verb, so doesn’t normally take -ing ending)
PostSecret (post can also be a noun or a verb, making this a compound)
7. Made up or obscure origin (8)
These are short names that are either made up or whose origins are so obscure that they might as well be made up.
Pros: Made-up names can be short, cute, and very distinctive (and therefore easy to trademark).
Cons: Made-up names don’t provide much ready-made meaning to work with (all the meaning has to come from sound symbolism). Good ones are hard to think of, and when they’re short the URLs are likely to be taken.
Zimbra (taken from a Talking Heads song based on a nonsense Dada poem)
8. Puns (8)
These names are words or phrases that have been modified slightly to evoke an appropriate second meaning. They’re similar to blends, but they involve a coincidental similarity between part of the main word and the second evoked word.
Pros: Pun names can be fun and memorable.
Cons: Nothing sounds dumber than a bad pun.
Automattic (automatic, mat –> matt, the guy who started the company)
Consumating (consummating, consumm –> consum(e))
Farecast (forecast, fore –> fare)
LicketyShip (lickety split, split –> ship, the verb)
Memeorandum (memorandum, mem –> meme)
Meetro (metro, met –> meet)
Meevee (teevee/TV, tee –> me(e), the pronoun)
Writely (rightly, right –> write)
9. People’s names (real or fictitious) (5)
Some names are either pitched or recognizable as people’s names. If the audience for a name doesn’t see the connection, the name is just like a made-up one.
Pros: These names are short and give personality to a company (or product or service).
Cons: Aside from personality, these names don’t provide meaning to work with. As with made-up names, good, short ones might not be available as URLs.
Bix (e.g. Bix Beiderbecke)
Jajah (F. Jajah Watamba seems to be their fictitious spokesperson)
Kiko (a name in Japanese and other languages)
Ning (a Chinese name)
Riya (the name of a founder’s daughter)
10. Initials and Acronyms (3)
These are names made up of the first letter of each word in a much longer phrase name. Sometimes the letters are pronounced individually, in which case we can just think of them as initials, and sometimes the combination of letters is pronounced as a word, in which case it’s an acronym.
Pros: These names provide short mnemonics for long, descriptive phrases.
Cons: Zzzzzz. Also, sometimes initials are short when written but long when spoken. For example, the initials www have nine syllables when spoken, while the phrase world wide web has three.
AOL (America Online)
FIM (Fox Interactive Media)
Guba (Gigantic Usenet Binaries Archive)
The Name Inspector hopes that these name categories will be useful to people struggling with their own naming problems. They might suggest naming strategies or spur name ideas that wouldn’t otherwise come up. Good luck in your naming endeavors!